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September brings 'Swift Watch' back to Chapman Elementary in NW Portland

For nearly four decades, thousands of swifts have come to Portland in September — swarming the chimney of Chapman Elementary as they prepare to roost for the night.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Every year in September it has been a tradition for one speedy population of Vaux's swifts to swarm the chimney at Chapman Elementary School — one of the largest known roosting sites for the migrating birds. 

For the past two years the "Swift Watch" has been canceled due to COVID-19, but this year it made a return to the Northwest Portland elementary school. Portlanders gathered around on the lawn over the weekend to watch the swifts swirl overhead.

"Swifts are migrating from the Pacific Northwest South and this is one of the locations, Chapman Elementary School, where they congregate to sleep overnight," said Bebe Anderson, a third-year volunteer with Portland Audubon.

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Swift Watch has become a popular tradition at Chapman on many evenings in September. More than 2,000 people have gathered on a single night in the past to watch these aerial acrobats, according to PA.

"They're amazing little birds, they just pork out all day long on bugs and then they swirl around and rest the night here," said Anderson.

Groups of roosting swifts can range in size from 1,500 to as many as 10,000, according to Anderson. On Labor Day, PA counted a total of 6,790 swifts. 

"And then all of a sudden they'll just start this funnel spiraling down into the chimney and just huge numbers will go down and so that they're all down there pretty much by the time the sun sets," said Anderson. 

Swifts will swarm the Chapman chimney through the end of September or even early October.

PA volunteers and staff will be at the Chapman Swift Watch most nights with information about the swifts from Sept. 1-30.

Visit Portland Audubon's website to plan your trip to catch the swifts this month.

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Editors note: The video below is from 2019.

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